For Henry’s Bar
I’m on an errand to find my grandpa. I’m ten
and finding freedom in a sanctioned outing
on my bike through the streets of Clovis, CA.
I roll past Silver’s house and peek into the backyard
of broke drunks holding paper bags around
a barrel fire. One who just came back
from taking a leak is seasoning some carne
they bought with the tallboys across the street
at Numero Uno market. The door chimes when
I walk in and see Artemio’s white mane. His mustache
stretches from his nostrils to his sideburns
and up into his waxed pomp of hair.
My grandma says I’m not supposed to talk to him,
but he always asks how she’s doing.
I don’t see my grandpa anyplace. Art says
he’s around somewhere. I go to Ruby’s
next door. I’m not allowed, but I look in.
I’m hit with a gust of cigarettes and Bud Light.
Half a dozen heads turn my direction. No dice.
I ride down Pollasky with feet out each way.
I swerve left and right, free, for once. I am this
far from the shouting distance of my grandma.
I take to the alley just for kicks and pop a wheelie
behind the appliance shop. I pull up behind Henry’s,
knowing grandpa’s in there. A few other grandpas too.
I don’t knock. I stay on my bike. I realize
I’m not ready to go home and like most men
in this town, grandpa doesn’t want to be found.
I keep riding. I go North toward what’s left
of the railroad tracks. There’s a grey cloud
moving across the sky and I imagine I’m
chasing it, I’m right behind it. I keep riding
until it’s all oleanders and stacked railroad ties.
I never thought I could go this far. I get off
the seat and stand. I glide next to a forgotten
caboose. I imagine I’m the howling train now.
My tires kick dust as they crunch over the dry dry dirt.
Copyright © 2021 by Joseph Rios. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 9, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.